Author Interview: Jen Devon – Bend Toward the Sun by Jen Devon is such a stunning book and I’m thrilled Jen joined for an author interview. One of my 2022 faves! Thank you, St. Martin’s Press, for my gifted review copy of Bend Toward the Sun by Jen Devon. This post may contain links to purchase books & you can read our affiliate disclosure here.
Jen wrote her first story when she was eight. Now she writes steamy, atmospheric romances about complicated, imperfect people finding their perfect match.
A former biology academic and lecturer, she currently works in the tech industry and dreams of writing full-time. She’s an avid gardener, photographer, and boardgamer, a thrift store enthusiast and unapologetic nerd. She’s a mom of six (three kids, three rescue mutts) and lives in central Ohio with her engineer husband.
Synopsis for Bend Toward the Sun by Jen Devon
Rowan McKinnon doesn’t believe in love. With a botany PhD, two best friends who embrace her social quirkiness, and some occasional no-strings sex, she has everything she needs. But she hides deep wounds from the past―from an emotionally negligent mother, and a fiancé who treated her like a pawn in a game. When an academic setback leads Rowan to take on the restoration of a winery’s abandoned vineyard, she relishes the opportunity to restore the grapes to their former glory.
She does not expect to meet a man like Harrison Brady.
An obstetrician profoundly struggling after losing a patient, Harry no longer believes he is capable of keeping people safe. Reeling, Harry leaves Los Angeles to emotionally recover at his parents’ new vineyard in Pennsylvania.
He does not expect to meet a woman like Rowan McKinnon.
As their combative banter gives way to a simmering tension, sunlight begins to crack through the darkness smothering Harry’s soul. He’s compelled to explore the undeniable pull between them. And after a lifetime of protecting herself from feeling anything, for anyone, Rowan tries to keep things casual.
But even she can’t ignore their explosive connection.
Author Interview: Jen Devon
Jen, I’m so excited to talk to you today about Bend Toward the Sun. Thank you for joining me for this Q & A!
Sarah, hi! I’m grateful and delighted, thank you!
I truly loved your book. I savored every page and didn’t rush through it because I didn’t want it to end. Can you tell me a little about the inspiration behind Bend Toward the Sun?
I’m happy you lingered in the pages. I want the book to feel like watching a movie—those are my favorites to read, myself.
I wish I could identify a single source of inspiration, but it took me seven years to write, and it went through a lot of changes. I wrote my first scene in Evernote on my phone while on a longish flight home from a work trip in 2014. I’d already finished reading the book I’d brought with me, so I needed something to do to pass the time.
This idea of two people with oppositional views on love—but who were also really, really into each other—had been tumbling around in my mind for a while. In the scene, a man and a woman were slow-dancing. They were surrounded by a crowd, so they had to keep it tame and civil, even though the conversation got heated (and so did they). I had no idea at the time that I’d just begun writing a book.
Over the years, I tried to overlay several different plots onto the story to try to make it more “high concept” and marketable, but none of it ever felt authentic to what I was trying to create. So eventually, I just let Rowan and Harry be the plot, and that’s when the book really started to sing and shine.
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For me, this book touches on grief, heartache, found family, and healing – all of which happen to be my favorite topics in love stories. Can you tell readers what tropes and/or themes to expect from Bend Toward the Sun?
That original dancing scene was definitely what planted the opposites-attract seed. I suppose it’s also a bit grumpy-sunshine, but the more common “he’s grumpy, she’s sunshine” setup (in het romances, of course) is subverted in Bend Toward the Sun. Rowan is the thorny one, and Harry is the softy. There are also several of my favorite mini-tropes in the book too: he falls first, for example. I won’t mention others here for the sake of avoiding spoilers, but I think most romance readers will recognize them when they see them.
Found family is huge in this book. It’s also about overcoming shame, self-forgiveness, and beginning again. Despite Rowan and Harry’s immediate mutual physical attraction, it’s a relatively slow burn. But once it ignites, it, ah—really ignites. There aren’t any metaphorical closed doors in this book. There’s also a ton of symbolism threaded throughout, but I won’t go into it here because I’d love for readers to discover it on their own!
Harry contends with the loss of his career, love life and a patient as he heads back home to figure out his next steps. Can you tell me some of your favorite characteristics of Harry?
Harry is in a very dark place when he comes home, but the fact that he does come home to seek solace with his family is the first glimpse of how willing he is to be vulnerable. I think that vulnerability is my favorite thing about him. He’s just a walking, talking exposed nerve. I also love that he’s gentle and romantic, but he’s flawed—he has a temper and intensity about him that he usually suppresses very effectively, but when that cork pops, whew.
Rowan is so brilliant and determined. She is a force, who is focused on her career and isn’t interested in any type of romantic attachment. Can you tell me some of your favorite things about Rowan?
Rowan is so much softer than she thinks she is. She’s a natural nurturer, but she doesn’t recognize it in herself because she received very little nurturing of her own. She has this deep ache for the love and belonging she so cynically avoids—she wants it so badly that she can’t help but subconsciously reach for it. That yearning manifests in her subtle love language. I intentionally wrote her to be a bit “unlikeable” (whatever that means, I have Opinions and Feelings about this, but that’s for another conversation) at the beginning of the book, so her evolution throughout would be that much more satisfying. I love her even at her most prickly.
One of my favorite scenes in your book involves the phrase, “pancake noises.” Do you have any favorite scenes in Bend Toward the Sun?
This is so hard to choose. I love every scene! I love every single letter and punctuation mark in this book.
I think the dinner scene at the end is one of my favorites, because (without getting into too much detail, because spoilers) it features all the Bradys, and I got to play with what it would look like if Harry was the grumpy one, and Rowan was soft.
Harry and Rowan’s first real kiss (and the brief shenanigans leading up to it) is a highlight for me too—I wanted to subvert the “perfect first kiss” moment I grew up reading in romance, and it was a hell of a lot of fun to write.
Author Interview: Jen Devon: Let’s Chat About Writing
I absolutely love the setting of this book. Can I please move into the vineyard and never leave? Your writing is so atmospheric. All the descriptions of plants, dirt, insects, flowers, leaves, etc. I ate it up. Can you describe or share any tips for writers who may struggle with their setting and atmosphere?
Yes, let’s go together! There’s a real place called Grace Winery outside Philly that I discovered several years after I started writing the book. I spent a weekend there with my husband in 2019, and it had such spot-on Bend Toward the Sun vibes. There’s even a bank barn! It was glorious.
As for advice for immersing readers in setting and atmosphere: engage every sense and put it on the page. What you draft might ultimately be overkill (I am a reigning champ of long-windedness), but you can trim in edits.
Describe a thing in the scene that seems most incongruous or least consequential—the musky smell of soil or the way the fan in the window creaks as the dusty blades whirl. Is the light in the room warm, or sterile—and how does that change the character’s appearance? Does it alter the hue of their hair, or cast shadows under their eyes? What array of actual colors make up the sunset? It’s not just a “beautiful sunset”—make it an impressionist canvas of indigo and amber.
What’s the dominant identifiable scent in the air, and what are the low notes, too—those subtle smells you can barely detect, and how do they inform what’s around us in the scene, “off camera”? What does it feel like to get goosebumps—describe in real-time what’s happening to the tiny hairs and skin on your arms—the tightness, the tug, the enhanced sensitivity.
When there’s a loud sound, where else does it register in your body other than your ears—do you feel it in your teeth, or your throat, or does it make your eyes water? Put the full sensory experience of being alive on the page for your character to feel.
What started your foray into reading and loving the romance genre? Any comfort reads you go back to time and time again?
My first romance was Island Flame by Karen Robards, her debut—and problematic by modern standards, so reader beware. I don’t remember how I got my hands on it, but I was young—12 or 13. It blew my mind. I’d been reading my dad’s Dean Koontz novels from the time I was in 6th grade, and his older work (think Midnight, Watchers, Lightning) reliably had a romantic subplot and a HEA in addition to the satisfying wrap-up to the thriller. I loved them, and I lived for the romance bits. When I discovered actual romance books, it was transformational—an entire book dedicated to the relationship journey of the couple?! Sign me all the way up.
The comfort reads I go back to the most are Judith McNaught historicals; Whitney, My Love, Something Wonderful, Until You, A Kingdom of Dreams. I also love Remembrance by Jude Devereaux. The contemporaries that I tend to comfort reread are some of Nora Roberts’ series: the Bride Quartet, the In The Garden trilogy, the Born In trilogy. A few of Penny Reid’s Winston Brothers books. I’m definitely a Sally Thorne fangirl; The Hating Game is such a fun reread when you know exactly how far gone Joshua is for Lucy from the jump. You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle is one of the few books (any media, really—movies included!) that makes me laugh out loud.
It’s not related to romance at all, but worth mentioning—I’ve probably read the MG novel My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George at least a hundred times!
Comfort Reads, Fancasting, Board Games & More
Bend Toward the Sun is one of my new favorite books! It’s so beautiful and I am going to recommend it to everyone. What are some books on your TBR?
I am so thankful for your support. It means everything, especially for a debut author!
This year, I’ve mostly been reading my fellow 2022 debuts’ books. They’ve all been staggeringly good, so I’m going to stick to only mentioning ones I haven’t read yet. I’m particularly excited for Noué Kirwan’s Long Past Summer, Alicia Thompson’s Love in the Time of Serial Killers, In the Event of Love by Courtney Kae, On Rotation by Shirlene Obuobi, Set on You by Amy Lea, and Pride and Protest by Nikki Payne.
I always love talking about TV and movies. If you were to cast an adaptation for Bend Toward the Sun, do you have anyone in mind for your characters?
For years, I have been fantasizing about a Bend Toward the Sun limited series on a streaming service. Let’s manifest it, right now: it’s going to happen, and then we can come back to this interview and squee!
Anyway, when I tell you I’ve been agonizing over fancasting my book for a year, I’m not exaggerating. I knew it was a thing that I would be asked when promoting the book, and I just don’t know! For Rowan, are there even any actresses who are tall, with tons of freckles and long, wild curly red hair? The hair could be a wig, I guess. Harry would probably be easier to cast—think Michael Vartan circa Never Been Kissed, and Alexander Skarsgård circa his 2011 GQ magazine spread. Are there any thirtysomething actors right now who look like them?
Here’s what we’ll do—let’s cast some “unknowns” and watch their careers take off afterward, sound like a plan?
How do you spend your time outside of writing?
I have a full-time day job, so that takes up most of my week. I love to tinker in my garden, even though I always overextend myself in the spring and it becomes an unsustainable (weedy!–don’t tell Rowan I said that) mess by midsummer. I really love playing boardgames with my husband when we can make the time for it, and just being with him. He’s my favorite. We have three kids, and we enjoy exploring with them and introducing them to new foods, though we don’t get out nearly as much as we did when they were all little.
What are you hoping readers feel when they read Bend Toward the Sun?
To feel like they need to go right back to page one and start over again when they finish the final chapter. Exhilaration during those transformational moments between Harry and Rowan. Kinship with the Brady family, and with Rowan’s friends. Comfort. Insatiable curiosity about more stories in the Vesper Valley world.
Thank you again for taking the time to speak with me! How can readers best connect with you?
Thank YOU, Sarah! This was fun.
Here’s where to find me (I love DMs, come say hi!):
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kisscrafter/ (Where I hang out the most!)
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/kisscrafter
- Web: https://jendevon.com
- I have a rarely-updated Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/jendevonbooks too
Let’s connect with books! I have all of my reviews on Goodreads!
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